NETWORKING IN VERMONT: Vermont Young Professionals

by Ayla Yersel

Let’s face it-- sometimes, the job market can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re just starting out. It can be particularly difficult trying to make professional connections-- where do you begin? How do you meet people in your field?

Good news-- you’re not alone. In fact, there is an entire organization in Vermont dedicated to providing a platform for young professionals to connect: it’s called Vermont Young Professionals. 

What is it?

VYP is essentially a networking organization. A completely volunteer-based non-profit, it was “created to be an organization for young professionals to basically call their own,” said Lindsay Cahill Lord, VYP’s Director of Communications. 

Since 2009, it has grown to about 600 members, and holds a variety of events every year to allow its members to connect, network, and socialize. 

“The goal [was] really to help young professionals find, you know, strong networks and guidance, and also a little bit of socializing,” she said.

Joining VYP is free, and is as easy as signing up for their mailing list. The organization is run by a board of volunteers, all under the age of 40. 

VYP President, Paul Dame, 33, owns his own financial services practice, Shepherd Financial. He helps clients with retirement planning, investing and saving. 

“That’s my day job,” he said. At Vermont Young Professionals, "we don’t have any paid staff at all. It’s all kind of this nights and weekends sort of a thing.”

VYP also just launched a new website, VYP.org, where members can create profiles and post events that might appeal to other young professionals.

“You’re able to see a broader scope of events that can be updated, really day by day,” Dame said.

Molly Hall, 32, joined the organization as a young professional in 2010, when her now-husband, who is the organization’s founder, introduced her. 

“When we first met, he told me about the Vermont Young Professionals,” she said. “And I was very interested. I was a young professional-- I still am a young professional-- and I had only been in Vermont for a couple of years, so was still trying to establish myself and build a network, and so the organization sounded really interesting.”

Sometimes, Vermont is “a little hard to break into” when it comes to building a network, she said.

 “A lot of folks don’t necessarily know where to start. Our goal is that we can potentially be, you know, a starting place for a lot of folks, and a resource.”

Hall, who is the real estate coordinator at Coldwell Banker Hickock and Boardman Realty, remarked that she has found VYP to be valuable in her field.

“Back when I was a rental agent, the Vermont Young Professionals was huge for me, especially for talking with young professionals who were relocating into the area,” she said. “Being able to talk to them and tell them about the organization if they want to get involved, and a couple of folks did get involved, or become members, which was nice.”

What does it do?

VYP’s events range from mixers to formals. Perhaps the most notable of these events is the Vermonter’s Ball, an annual formal where guests don formal wear-- with a Vermont twist.

“It was kind of like an oxymoron-- ‘Vermont formal wear’,” Dame said. “You can wear a full tuxedo and have a flannel tie, and that’s formal wear with Vermont flair.”

The idea of “Vermont flair” has been interpreted in different ways over the years. Naturally, there’s a lot of flannel, but the term has also inspired a range of different outfits from past participants. 

“We’ve had other folks go, you know, in very different directions, like, dressing up in an entire ski suit, complete with helmet,” Dame said. 

“The goal [was] really to help young professionals find, you know, strong networks and guidance, and also a little bit of socializing.”

All of its events are self-sustaining, which means that the costs are covered by event sponsors and entry fees.

“We will find a particular sponsor for a particular event to cover those costs, sometimes a little bit more,” Dame said. “That’s one of the dual purposes-- the chance to get out and meet other young professionals and know that... the money is going to help support our organization as well as support another local non-profit.”

So what defines “young”?

“Anyone can come to our events,” Dame said. “We’re organizing events that appeal to, you know, folks who are in their twenties and thirties. Mostly out of college, but we get some college kids.”

Lord, 28, a relatively new member of the Board, said that VYP’s members span a range of people of various professions and ages. There is one requirement though-- if you want to serve on the Board of Directors, you cannot be older than 40. 

“One of the strengths is that, you know, we really come from a variety of professional backgrounds, and have a pretty great diversity there too,” she said. “We say we’re a group of individuals at various stages of our lives and careers, and I think our members are also at various stages of their lives and careers.”

What defines “professional”?

VYP is open to those who are either looking for a career, or who have one already. Members currently include everyone from lawyers to mechanics and retail workers, to students and even some who are unemployed.

“We leave that professional category fairly undefined so that individuals can define it themselves,” Dame said.  “If you consider yourself a professional... then we welcome you.”

It’s free?

It’s free.

“The focus has been and will remain to be helping people get the tools to build the network they need to be able to stay in Vermont,” Dame said. “It’s easier to do that if we make all those resources free.”

Okay, great! How do I become a member?

All you need to do to become a member is sign up for its mailing list at vyp.org.

Lord, who moved away from Vermont and moved back, said she “firmly and strongly believes that...you get out of a place what you put into it.”

“If you’re involved and you’re reaching out to other young professionals and you’re reaching out to mentors and to find people that you can learn from, you know, I believe that you’ll find that the small size of Vermont and of some of our communities, it really doesn’t matter,” she said. “We have a lot of really great things in the state. And so, to me, it’s come down to you get out of a place what you put into it, basically.”

Want to learn more? Check out the Vermont Young Professionals website at www.vyp.org.